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Blog-checking lines: Jami Sorrento was our June Daring Cooks hostess and she chose to challenge us to celebrate the humble spud by making a delicious and healthy potato salad. The Daring Cooks Potato Salad Challenge was sponsored by the nice people at the United States Potato Board, who awarded prizes to the top 3 most creative and healthy potato salads. A medium-size (5.3 ounce) potato has 110 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium and includes nearly half your daily value of vitamin C and has more potassium than a banana!

OMG so laaaaaate….I saw that the challenge was potato salad, picked my recipe out, and then work immediately became a fiery whirlwind of stress and drama, and the potato salad never was made. But then Jenn was having a 4th of July pool party, and I said AHA! A time and place for a healthy potato salad, especially one that doesn’t have mayo in it!

I didn’t take any pictures…so I suppose you can’t really believe me when I said I made it. ūüė¶

Original recipe here. Bask in the authoress’s gorgeous photographing abilities. I’m jealous!

I am all about the Indian flavors this year — maybe because I’m working more closely than ever before with my subcontinental coworkers? These flavors were a big hit, both among those who tried it at the July 4th pool party and the neighbors who had it at the July 5th Leftovers Party I lugged it to. This was easy to make on the morning of the 4th while Jim deconstructed the tents in the backyard from our July 3rd party (can you tell our neighborhood takes the 4th of July very seriously?), and the kitchen didn’t even get too hot. Totally a plus.

Indian Potato Salad (no mayo)
4 cups potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes*
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
couple of shakes of cayenne
3 scallions, sliced thinly
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped*

*I think I used about 3 medium sized white potatoes? 2 1/2 pounds or so?
**As always, what did I do? I left out the cilantro! Yes, always. It tastes like soap. You’re welcome.

Bring water to a boil and add the cubed potatoes. Boil until just tender (about 5 mins). Test with a fork. You don’t want them too firm but you don’t want them falling apart in to mush either. Drain in a colander in the sink.

Heat the oil in a skillet and toast the cumin seeds for a minute. Add the salt and curry powder and stir until well mixed. The mixture will get amazingly fragrant as it heats up, this only takes a minute or so but be sure you don’t let it burn. Take fragrant spiced oil off the heat.

Place the potatoes, scallions, and red pepper in a bowl and add the spicy oil. Toss gently then add a couple of shakes of cayenne. Finally, add the cilantro if you are using it and toss gently.

And enjoy!

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Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.

I’m noticing a trend with the latest Daring Cooks challenges…souffl√©…confit…cassoulet… Can we do something next month that pronounces ALL the letters? LOL! I’m definitely feeling the French cooking vibe going around in the Daring Kitchen lately. I never thought I’d be learning to do souffl√©s and confits and cassoulets, but really, I don’t think I knew what to expect. Just that I’d be challenged with “exotic” recipes. Some would turn out, some wouldn’t, and I’d probably learn something new. So far, so good.

Here’s the thing about cassoulet, though. I’d never heard of it before I read The Matchmaker of P√©rigord a while back, and let me tell you — it turned me off cassoulet forever. I didn’t even know what it was supposed to be, but in the book it’s a dish that’s been going for 40 or 50 years, and there’s a button in it, and GOD HELP YOU if you take the button out. And there’s a 40-year-old goose leg floating around in there somewhere. It’s incredibly unattractive. So my reaction to this challenge was “Ack! A cassoulet! Noo!” ūüė¶ But the helpful, wonderful hosts, Jenni and Lisa, included vegetarian options, and I embraced this. Not just because it avoided the abundance of duck fat necessary for the carnivorous confit, but because it was leek-based, and you know how much I love that particular vegetable. And as a BONUS, the Leek Confit was Molly Wizenberg‘s recipe.

Leek Confit
Makes 2 cups/480 ml.
originally appeared in Bon App√©tit Oct ’08; online recipe here.

Ingredients:
¬ľ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
4 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into ¬ľ inch thick slices (about 5 cups) and rinsed, rinsed, rinsed, rinsed.
2 tbsp water
¬Ĺ tsp salt

Directions:
1. Melt butter in a large pot over medium-low heat.

2. Add well-rinsed leeks, stir to coat. 3. Stir in water and salt.
4. Cover pot and reduce heat to low.
5. Cook leeks until tender, stirring often, about 25 minutes.
6. Uncover and cook to evaporate excess water, 2-3 minutes.

Serve with Melba toasts and a thin smear of spreadable chevrie goat cheese.

First of all, my apologies to any other Hough’s Neck/Quincy Center-area Daring Cooks: It was I who pretty much cleaned out the Super Stop & Shop’s selection of leeks on the evening of January 7. There were exactly two bundles of leeks left after I was done stocking up for the confit and the vegetarian cassoulet.

Make sure your leeks are pre-approved by your local Welsh representative:

I personally approve this leek.

Enjoy.

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Chai-Spiced Orange-Cranberry Sauce

Still trying to figure out side dishes for tomorrow’s turkey dinner? Ever thought of making your own cranberry sauce? I know it sounds daunting, but it is really the easiest thing in the world and you can make it up to four days in advance, so you can get it done the day or two days before. I saw this in Yankee Magazine’s November/December 2010 issue in a article extolling the virtues and flexibility of this New England fruit, and the fact that it was spiced with chai tea pushed it over the top and I just had to try it. Conveniently timed was a birthday party/holiday buffet for a friend’s one-year-old daughter!

You can buy cranberries when they’re in season and stock them up in the freezer for up to a year, so buy four or five or six bags when they’re on a really good sale at the grocery store, then use them straight from frozen in your recipes. Just be sure to pick them over quickly before you add them, to get out the “bad apples” and take out any stems that tagged along! A few never hurt anyone but too many is too many.

Yankee Chai-Spiced Orange-Cranberry Sauce
makes 6 cups of sauce

1 1/2 c. water
2 1/4 c. sugar
5 bags black chai tea (I used Tazo)
8 c. fresh or frozen cranberries
1/4 c. fresh orange juice

Combine water and sugar in a large pot (I used the 5-quart pot) over high heat. Stir, cover, and bring to a boil, then reduce to medium-low heat and add tea bags. Simmer with tea bags for exactly two minutes (set the timer!), then remove the tea with a slotted spoon or mesh scoop.¬†Pay close attention to the timing, though–too much steeping will bring out the tea’s bitter notes.

After the tea bags have been removed, add the cranberries and increase heat to medium-high. Simmer, stirring frequently, until cranberries soften and their skins split and the sauce thickens a little, about 10 to 15 minutes. It will tend to foam up as the berries release juice and pectin, so make sure it doesn’t foam over (this is also why I used a larger pot than Yankee called for). Also watch out because the bubbling mixture is HOT and will splash you. Don’t wear white.

Remove from heat, stir in orange juice, and let cool to room temperature before serving (the sauce will thicken further as it cools). Or cover and refrigerate up to 4 days. Once it had cooled a bit I transferred it to a 2-quart souffle dish, which was a perfect size. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. I made this the night before our dinner party so I could just pull it out and serve it when the buffet was laid.

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Basic Caesar Salad

A Caesar salad is a basic thing but for some reason, I was intimidated by it at first. Then I broke it down in to its component parts, and now the Caesar is my go-to salad.

For a Caesar salad to serve about two people, as a side dish at dinner:
1 heart of Romaine lettuce
croutons
parmesan cheese
Caesar dressing, your brand of choice*

*We are in love with the creamy garlickiness of Ken’s Chef’s Reserve Creamy Caesar with Roasted Garlic. It certainly lives up to its name.

Wash and break up the heart of Romaine — just tear it to pieces with your fingers under cool running water, then pat away any excess moisture with a white paper towel. Don’t make your pieces too small, just comfortably-sized for eating. Sprinkle your patted Romaine with grated Parmesan cheese — not too much, but just enough to make an even, thin layer over the top of your bowl. Add in croutons as you prefer: We like a few extra, but some people don’t like croutons at all. You’ll know when it looks about right.

When you add the dressing, DON’T GO OVERBOARD: a little goes a long way, especially with a garlicky dressing. Add 6 or 7 quarter-sized drops over the top of your bowl, then mix. It should evenly coat your lettuce without drowning it, and the cheese and the croutons will help spread it out.

I know this isn’t a recipe per se, just a guideline — but it works wonders for me!

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A simple, delicious, microwave side! If your oven is wrapped up or it’s just too hot to cook, this is a sure-fire dish that appeals even to the vegetable-wary.

Apricot-Glazed Carrots
serves 4 (generously!)

1 large bag (32 ounces) baby carrots
3 Tbsp butter or margarine
1 Tbsp light brown sugar
1/3 c. apricot preserves*
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp cornstarch

*We’ve also thought of trying orange marmalade. I wonder if you could even use apple jelly, but the bits of fruit in the preserves adds a little something.

Place 1/4 cup of tap water into a 2 quart microwave-safe baking dish. Add carrots, butter, and light brown sugar, stir, and cover with plastic wrap. Use a fork to pierce holes in the plastic wrap, then microwave on high for 10 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Carefully remove the dish from the microwave, discard the plastic wrap, and then stir in the apricot preserves, salt, and nutmeg. Microwave uncovered on high for another 2 minutes. Stir in cornstarch until completely dissolved, and microwave for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until carrots are tender and sauce is thickened.

Another Temp-tations recipe!

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Why did I not give you this recipe last summer?

Spicy Artichoke Dip
from Better Homes & Gardens Hometown Potluck Favorites
serves 14

1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, rinsed, drained, and coarsely chopped
1/3 c. mayonnaise or salad dressing
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp diced green chile peppers, drained
2 tsp drained and chopped pickled jalapeno peppers
1/8 tsp ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced

In a large bowl, combine chopped artichoke hearts, mayo, Parmesan, green chile peppers, chopped jalapeno peppers, cumin, and garlic. Spoon in to an ungreased small casserole. Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Let stand about 10 minutes before serving.

for 40 servings (!)

3 14-ounce cans artichoke hearts, rinsed, drained, and coarsely chopped
1 c. mayonnaise or salad dressing
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 4-ounce can diced green chile peppers, drained
2 Tbsp drained and chopped pickled jalapeno peppers
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3 cloves of garlic, minced

Same preparation, but use a larger casserole — about 1 1/2 quarts — and bake for about 30 minutes.

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Eleusinian Macaroni Tzatziki

This was an unexpected recipe. As a macaroni salad recipe, it came to me via Martha Stewart. And yet when I made it, I was reminded of nothing so much as that fabulous Graeco-Mediterranean condiment, tzatziki. So I’m not calling this Martha’s Macaroni Salad; I’m calling this Eleusinian Macaroni Tzatziki.

1 c. (4 oz.) elbow macaroni
1/4 c. light mayonnaise
1/4 c. light sour cream
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
1/4 c. fresh chopped dill
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

In boiling, lightly salted water, cook the elbow macaroni to package directions.

Meanwhile, mix the mayonnaise, sour cream, finely chopped cucumber, lemon juice, and dill in a separate, medium-sized bowl.

Drain the pasta and rinse in cold running water; drain excess water and add pasta to the cucumber-mayo mixture. Mix up thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste; toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate up to one day in advance.

Next time I think I might use half the recommended lemon juice, as I felt it made this salad just too “bright.” The sour cream does that enough. I wonder if you could substitute thick Greek yogurt for the sour cream entirely? It might be less sour and more creamy if you did so (and more authentic!). Next time I might also add some halved cherry tomatoes for a splash of color and another taste dimension; you could also add goat or feta or blue cheese, or sliced black olives to dress it up.

Grill up lamb kebabs seasoned only with sea salt, and enjoy this summer side dish to the tune of bazoukia and auloi.

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